Open Mic Check: The Denver Bicycle Cafe

Local comic Patrick Scott performs at the Denver Bicycle Cafe open mic.
Local comic Patrick Scott performs at the Denver Bicycle Cafe open mic. Andrew Bray
Denver is positively lousy with standup-comedy open mics. In the hierarchy of performing arts, open-mic comedy falls somewhere below magicians and jugglers on the scale of public appreciation. However, open mics are a vital training ground for fledgling standups and old pros alike, a unique environment where audiences' low expectations and widespread apathy make it possible for great jokes to emerge in moments of spontaneous inspiration, then slowly take shape over a process of trial and error. Sometimes the shows are an utter slog; sometimes they're blessed or plagued with an air of barely restrained chaos.

Here to help readers navigate the open-mic scene is Open Mic Check, a handy guide to the best and worst stages in the city. The inaugural edition spotlights the comedy open mic at Denver Bicycle Cafe, on Sunday, November 19, a weekly show that returns on Sunday, November 26, at 8 p.m.

click to enlarge Cheery DBC Bartender Stefan Lopez is one of the mic's greatest assets. - ANDREW BRAY
Cheery DBC Bartender Stefan Lopez is one of the mic's greatest assets.
Andrew Bray

The room: The layout of the Denver Bicycle Cafe's taproom isn't readily adaptable to a comedy show: The room itself is narrow, there's no stage to speak of, and seating is limited. On the bright side, that means even a humble gathering of patrons can fill the room with laughter, but there's no getting past the awkwardness of customers crossing the threshold of the stage when they enter the bar. Though the Beer Hall menu is limited, brewhounds have an extensive and constantly evolving array of local suds on tap to choose from. Luckily, aesthetics and acoustics matter much less than the unambiguous support of a venue, and Denver Bicycle Cafe's support for its weekly open mic and monthly standup showcases is unwavering. In addition to vigorously promoting the events on social media, the DBC staff (particularly bartender Stefan Lopez) seem to genuinely enjoy comedy. In a climate where numerous open mics have been canceled without warning, DBC's steadfastness is a precious rarity.

The hosts: Co-hosting a public forum for dick jokes is an awkward balancing act, even when things go swimmingly — and things never go swimmingly. Roger Haak and Zach Welch work around the discomfort of sharing a stage, as well as a solitary microphone, by rotating introductory duties each week. Welch opened the show this week, quickly warming over a cold and chatty crowd with a blend of new material and old standbys. Though the affable presence of DBC co-founder James Xiong (who moved to Saskatoon a couple months ago) is sorely missed, Welch is one of Denver's most underrated comics, and his quick wit and withering shade are welcome additions that spice up lulls in the evening. Haak, who's hosted the mic from the beginning, has a gentler approach, but he doesn't suffer any fools, either. With a sign-up sheet that went thirty comics deep (24 of whom signed up well before Welch took the mic at 8:30 p.m.), the co-hosts moved through the list efficiently and kept the audience engaged throughout a three-hour cavalcade of standups of wildly varying quality. Hosting an open mic is tedious and often thankless work, but the crowd presented Welch and Haak with a pair of extra challenges this week.

click to enlarge Welch and Haak are on hand to guide a newcomer through his first open mic. - ANDREW BRAY
Welch and Haak are on hand to guide a newcomer through his first open mic.
Andrew Bray
The crowd: At the evening's outset, the beery crowd seemed restless but supportive, only heckling to contradict self-deprecating jokes like a doting mom. About four comics in, however, a particularly drunk and noisy pair of visibly shit-faced bros wandered into the room, loudly continuing an inane conversation and oblivious to their surroundings. After a gentle shushing from Lopez, the duo drunkenly interrogated Welch and Haak, who obliged them with much more patience than they deserved. After claiming seats at the bar, the guys proceeded to pound beers and interrupt sets with barely intelligible interjections, much to the chagrin of both the comics and the other customers. Then suddenly, as if the laws of physics themselves were offering some kind of karmic rebuke, one of the bros attempted to stand up and took a nasty spill off his barstool, taking his friend to the ground with him and landing with a sickening thud. Once it was determined that they were both physically fine, the entire room joined in laughing at their expense, and they both walked out, muttering to themselves. Now united by a common enemy, the rest of the crowd held strong for the next two and a half hours.

Notable sets: Andres Becerril was on stage during the bro-tumble incident and managed to hold his own despite being understandably flummoxed by the outbursts. Even more impressive, Becerril managed to win back the crowd immediately with a quick burst of goofy jokes and lighthearted crowd work. John Tole, a journeyman comic who recently relocated to the Mile High, also had the room in stitches with a harrowing and hilarious tale of Nazi-punching. Overall, the entire evening was emblematic of how weird and wonderful open mics can be.

Sign-up for the Denver Bicycle Cafe open mic begins at 8 p.m. every Sunday at 1308 East 17th Avenue. For more information, call 720-446-8029. 
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Byron Graham is a writer, comedian and gentleman thief from Denver. Co-host of Designated Drunkard: A Comedy Drinking Game, the deathless Lion's Lair open mic and the Mutiny Book Club podcast, Byron also writes about comedy for Westword. He cannot abide cowardice, and he's never been defeated in an open duel.
Contact: Byron Graham